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In any of the 50 states in 2016 how often is it possible to know your vote was not counted?


(Note that this question is similar to How do I know that my vote was counted?, and superficially seems logically equivalent.)

It's based on a comment to another question, in which User indigochild rhetorically asked:

How could you possibly find out that your vote was not counted?

  • Provisional and absentee ballots aside, I sincerely hope that no state will ever be able to answer this question. Implicit in this question is "how do I know that my vote was counted correctly (e.g. for the candidate I chose)" . I do not want the state to ever be able to know for whom I voted. – Michael J. Dec 1 '16 at 17:32
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See this article on HAVA and California Law which requires all votes to be counted. States have their own version of the California statues, but most should have something comparable that complies with the federal HAVA.

HAVA, which is short for the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. This lovely law dictates that every voter who casts a provisional ballot is entitled to find out from his/her county elections official if the ballot was counted. And if not, why not.

Note that this only applies to mail-in and provisional ballots. How to check:

Every county elections official provides voters with different ways to check the status of his/her vote-by-mail and provisional ballot either through the county website, by telephone, or both.

You can check California vote status through a simple search here and for Pennsylvania here.

  • Useful answer, it helps clarify an added wrinkle that I failed to articulate, (which probably should be another question), it is: supposing the status checker program is compromised, and keeps two sets of tallies, (a good set, and a crooked set), so that when users look up their votes, they see the tally from the good set, and nothing seems amiss, but the election itself is based on the crooked set. Supposing that dystopian premise, the wrinklier question is how (or when) is it possible to know your vote was not counted? (My own 'corner case' answer works either way.) – agc Dec 2 '16 at 3:10
  • This is a great answer regarding provisional and mail-in ballots. Do you have anything on ordinary ballots? – indigochild Dec 19 '16 at 20:10
  • @indigochild I don't think that exists, although it's hard to prove a negative – K Dog Dec 19 '16 at 20:15
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More likely

I think that in that case, it is more likely that this was a separate ballot, either absentee or provisional.

Provisional ballots are cast when they can't verify that you are a valid voter. Not sure what the rules are in Pennsylvania, so this may not apply in that specific case. By their nature, it is possible for provisional ballots to not be accepted and not count. A recount can revisit the decision to count or not count a provisional ballot.

People who can't be at the polling place on election day can request absentee ballots, which may have an earlier deadline. Absentee ballots are generally sent by mail. So you can check to see if they received the ballot. Presumably it is counted in that circumstance, and the recount should check again that it counted.

You can in general check to see if you are marked as voting in an election. The presumption being that if you are marked as voting, your vote counted. Unless your ballot was in some way unique, you won't be able to prove it one way or the other.

Less likely

By unique, I mean that the combination of candidates could be unique. There were five candidates for president/vice-president in Pennsylvania, at least two for Senate, Attorney General, Auditor General, and Treasurer, probably two for Representative, often two for state representative, possibly two for state senate, and two choices on a referendum. That's over a thousand unique ballot possibilities, and many precincts don't have that many voters.

Of course, certain combinations are going to be more popular. For example, the two straight party tickets will often be the most common single choices. Picking a Constitution Party, Libertarian, or Green Party candidate would make your ballot stand out.

You might also have trouble viewing the actual ballot choices for individual ballots. I haven't tried it, so I'm not sure how difficult it is.

  • All ballots, provisional or otherwise, are required by the federal HAVA, to be counted if accepted, i.e. filled out properly. You might have meant that. Not sure. – K Dog Dec 1 '16 at 18:03
  • Do you have any idea how the state knows if you voted or not? Where can we request the confirmation that we are marked as having voted? – indigochild Dec 19 '16 at 15:48
  • @indigochild I would expect it to be the Board of Elections for the county. However, I don't know if that is true in every state. – Brythan Dec 19 '16 at 16:44
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I believe if you lived in Milwaukee Ward 274 during the November 2008 general election, your vote may not have been counted. The file tabulates precinct by precinct results for Milwaukee county in 2008, and Ward 274 is missing, although it's present for instance in the 2016 election results.

  • An entire ward! If this is correct, you've hit upon another method... here Ward 274 might well have correctly counted its citizen's votes, but if Milwaukee incorrectly counted its wards' results, a citizen's counted vote disappears. So tree-style sub counts for each node, introduce as many points of failure as the number of nodes. – agc Dec 2 '16 at 2:56
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Simple answer: It's not possible to know for sure that your vote was counted/ not counted. Like it or not, it is one of the cons with secret ballots and maintaining voter privacy.

So, if you voted for major party candidates on Election Day using regular ballots. It is almost close to impossible to find out if your vote is counted or not counted.


Long answer:

However, there are some exceptional cases that you may found out that your vote's not counted.

  1. You voted for a write-in candidate, however, your precinct does not include the candidate in the vote tally OR the results show that there are no votes for write-in candidates.

  2. You can check if you're voted if you use provisional ballots or absentee ballots, you can check if your vote is received Usually, if it's received, your vote is counted.

0

I was surprised to receive a nasty little postcard from a "pro-voting" organization that told me I hadn't voted in the last 4 elections with a note "WHO you vote for is private; WHETHER you vote is part of the public record".

So it seems that everyone has access to whether a given person voted or not.

  • 3
    A record that a person voted does not mean that their vote was counted. – Philipp Dec 1 '16 at 23:38
  • Probably 90%+ of errors though are from votes not received or processed properly, rather than from miscounting a vote that is put into the stack of ballots to be counted. – ohwilleke Jan 7 '17 at 19:11
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A few corner cases where certainty is possible:

  1. Citizen X voted for Candidate Z. The published vote counts show no votes for Candidate Z. Therefore X's vote was not counted.

  2. The same as #1, times n. Example where n=10: Ten friends form an X-ten voting party, and all vote for Z. But the published vote counts show no votes for Z. Therefore X-ten's votes were not counted.

It's also possible to be able to assign maximal probabilities in less certain corner cases:

  1. The same as #2, with fewer than n votes counted. Example where n=10: Ten friends form a Y-ten voting party, and all vote for Z. But the published vote counts show five votes for Z. Therefore 50% or more of Y-ten's votes were not counted.
  • 1
    I once casted a write-in vote for a party which received exactly one vote in my district, and zero votes in neighbouring districts (they did not get elected). – gerrit Dec 1 '16 at 15:30

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